Lankford Looking For More Opportunities

The Fighting Illini football team roster shows a number of receivers counting several walkons. Despite that, there is minimal experience beyond the starters. Fortunately, the three top receivers are all juniors with two years experience. Ryan Lankford is one of those, and he's excited with all the changes taking place on the team.

Ryan Lankford is pleased with the new Illinois coaching staff.

"I like the coaches a lot. I like the whole atmosphere. We tried to change some things from last year, which is great. Just having fun really. I like coach (Tim) Beckman. He's real family oriented. He likes to have fun, but he wants us to do the work, which is what I like to do.

"Like the previous staff, he wants us to come in every day and try our best. Do what we need to do on and off the field. Have fun and be a football player."

New receiver coach Billy Gonzales has also made a strong impression.

"I like him a lot. I actually met him coming out of high school at a camp at the University of Florida. Our paths have crossed before. He really knows what he's talking about and tells you what you need to hear... the truth. I'm just ready to work."

Lankford is philosophical about all the changes taking place.

"There are some differences; no coaches are the same, so there's always going to be some things different. The transition has been going good so far. The coaches and everyone have really taken to the change. Change is difficult, but guys are real excited about what is going on. It's gonna be a good year."

Lankford found both similarities and differences in the winter conditioning program between the former staff and new one.

"Winter conditioning was pretty similar. Some things were different, like having music in there. Little hype-oriented atmosphere things going on in there. It's great, I like it a lot.

"Competition is a big part of the winter conditioning program. Players get broken up into teams, and you try to be the best you can be."

Experienced juniors Darius Millines, Spencer Harris and Lankford are now the presumed starters for the Illini at three receiver positions. For Lankford, this would be a step up after backing record breaker A.J. Jenkins the past two years.

"Some guys leave every year, so young guys have to step up. I feel like this is probably gonna be our year, me, Spencer, and Darius. There's no set depth chart, we're just guys who know a little bit more here and there. We've got to work hard, and in the first game we'll see who gets to start."

With a changeover from a pro-style offense to a spread offense, receiver principles have changed somewhat.

"It's a little different. It's not so much set on steps. It's more about reacting to what you see. That's also good, but I'm more used to having sharper routes. It's gonna take time, but it'll get down and will be pretty good."

He enjoyed a great spring in 2011 but caught only 12 balls for 108 yards last fall. He is more concerned with team success than individual accomplishments.

"I wasn't on the field as much in the fall as I was in the spring because Darius and A.J. were hurt. So of course my balls are gonna go down. But I wasn't disappointed from that.

"It's a team sport, so if I only catch 10 balls a year, that's okay as long as we win. Hopefully I will go up this year. There is a time when your number is called; you've just got to make a play."

Lankford is a speedy but slender athlete. Receivers are required to be good blockers, something the Floridian hopes to improve through weight training.

"I came in at 155, and I'm 172 now. It helps me with my blocking. Of course, I'm not the best blocker. But I'm not going to turn down the block. I'm going to work as hard as I can and do what I need to do as long as I can. I've been doing a lot of upper body stuff to get ready for that part of the game."

Lankford is fully integrated into campus life beyond football. He was seen at an Illinois basketball game rooting with the Orange Krush, along with Nathan Scheelhaase, Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei.

"We were trying to give back. Those guys are at our games all the time, so why not? It was actually Coach Beckman's idea to go there as a team. Some guys left, and then we walked down and saw they had a couple empty seats. They asked us if we wanted to sit with them. So cool."

Lankford has also proved himself capable as a rugby-style punter and will be used in that capacity at times this fall. As he adds more and more to his plate, he is becoming an indispensable cog in the Illini attack.

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